Belzebuth [movie review]

No dejes de razar — don’t stop praying

No dejes de razar — don’t stop praying

If you’re on Shudder, you might want to check out a couple of their newest offerings. I watched three over the weekend and I’m beginning this week’s movie reviews with my favorite of the three, Belzebuth.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a good exorcism flick—for obvious reasons—and Belzebuth hit all the sweet spots for me. It is a movie that could have easily descended into a gratuitous gore-fest. Instead, director Emilio Portes shows a restrained hand toward the violence to shift the focus to the actual story and the backstory of the characters, which is full of twists, some of which are surprising—not necessarily in the ohgod-wtf-did-i-just-see/jaw-dropping-scene-like-Hereditary (and those of you that saw the movie know what I’m talking about), but more in line with Cool!-That-was-neat-and-nicely-done!

And I’ll take nicely done any day of the week, because Portes took a tired trope and gave it the human aspect that is often forgotten in horror films. I’ve always argued that one of the aspects of writing that makes Stephen King’s books so enjoyable to people who don’t normally consume horror is the way in which he writes characters that are both relatable and sympathetic. Guillermo del Toro also knows how to draw the viewer into his stories through the characters. Both King and del Toro take the time to make the reader/viewer care so that when the bad things start to happen, we’re sucked into the story and rooting for the good guys.

Portes has achieved the same effect with Belzebuth, and he’s done it with an excellent cast that begins with Joaquín Cosío as officer Emmanuel Ritter (and for those of you that keep asking me what actor should play Los Nefilim’s Guillermo, I can tell you that I’ve finally found him). Cosío is perfect as the loving father turned ruthless investigator.

The story begins in Mexico but reaches across the border into America and Cosío reflects both worlds in his language and his knowledge of how the two cultures intersect … or don’t. When the paranormal forensics investigator, Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington), wants to know why the police never searched for missing children in a certain town, Ritter very matter-of-factly explains that it is a narco town and not even the police will go there.

As a secular protagonist sucked into a supernatural war, Cosío gives the viewer the perfect shift from disbelief into belief, and he morphs from the angelic protector into the tough cop and an antagonist with a magnificent performance. Ellington is often overshadowed by Cosío’s gravitas; although to be fair, Ellington’s character is in the role of the outsider looking in. José Sefami as Demetrio, on the other hand, is a veteran actor, and he is the perfect sidekick for Cosío’s Ritter. Unfortunately, Demetrio is usually fending off the brass for Ritter, so it’s not until Tobin Bell shows up as the rogue priest Vasilio Canetti that Cosío’s Ritter gets another actor who can play off Cosío’s strengths. The two compliment one another with excellent performances.

Portes helps all of this along with just the right camera angles and lighting to offset his actors and their performances. The script gives the audience slower moments that enable us to care about Ritter and his companions without wallowing in melodrama. I was invested the characters and definitely rooting for them.

There is violence. The opening scene in the nursery is made more horrific because you CAN’T see what’s happening. Portes delivers the horror through the screams and faces of those helpless to stop the carnage, yet he’s also careful and doesn’t drag out these scenes to the point of absurdity. If you want a good example of excellent pacing in a horror film, Belzebuth succeeds beautifully.

The review at Bloody Disgusting has a few mild spoilers, but Dax gives a good overview of the film’s strengths and weaknesses. I agree with everything but the rating.

Four skulls out of five. Highly recommended.